Family adapts to changes after stroke

Missy Campbell’s long medical journey isn’t over, but at least she’s back home in Evangeline Parish.

Campbell, 32, suffered a stroke while scouting hunting camps on Larto Lake with her husband, T.J. Campbell, a few days after Thanksgiving 2011.

Missy had the day off from her job as a nurse near Pine Prairie, so she joined T.J. for the trip even though she had been complaining of a bad headache.

“I remember thinking I’d never had a headache like that before,” Missy said. Even her eyes began hurting.

By mid-afternoon they had not found a camp to buy, so they stopped at a gas station to get hamburgers and medicine for her headache.

T.J. said he knew something was wrong when he heard his wife order her burger.

“I remember plain as day,” T.J. said. “She said ‘pickles’ weird.”

He thought maybe the medicine she’d taken was bad. Then he looked at her.

“I could see in her face something was wrong,” T.J. said. The left side of her face was drooping slightly and she was drooling.

“She kept saying her head hurt, and she couldn’t hardly stand anymore,” he said.

T.J. said it all happened very fast and was especially scary because Missy didn’t know what was happening to her. He expected her to know because she was a nurse.

But, though Missy wasn’t awake, she wasn’t exactly conscious. She doesn’t remember much of that day.

“I remember up to the store,” she said. “I started talking and it was like I was chewing on my face.”

T.J. wrestled with the idea of bringing Missy to the hospital himself, but he didn’t know the area or how long it would take.

His mom, also a nurse, advised him to wait for the ambulance. He said it took at least 15 minutes to get to the gas station.

“That was the longest 15 to 20 minutes I’ve ever waited in my life,” he said.

The ambulance took Missy to LaSalle General Hospital in Jena, where a CAT scan found a blood clot in her brain. From LaSalle General, she was taken to Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria.

Doctors at both hospitals were saying she probably had not had a stroke because she was only 31, T.J. said. They expected it to be a migraine with stroke-like symptoms.

But an MRI revealed a stroke, despite Missy’s age.

“It was 11 days after my 31st birthday,” she said.

The doctors determined that a tear in Missy’s carotid artery caused the clot that traveled into her brain. They could never determine what caused the tear, Missy said.

Tears like hers are usually caused by blunt-force trauma like a car wreck or fall, but Missy said she hadn’t experienced anything like that recently. She also had no bruising.

Missy went into intensive care. Doctors warned T.J. that over the next 72 hours, dangerous brain swelling was possible. “They said if the brain doesn’t swell in that (72 hours), you’re fine,” T.J. said.

A nurse named Bethany, especially impressed him. It was amazing, he said, “to have somebody care that much for somebody they met a day ago.”

After 72 hours, Missy’s brain had not swelled.

The doctor told T.J. that Missy would undergo a CT scan and be moved to a regular room if her results were positive. Then they would discuss treatment.

But Missy became restless. Her body started fighting. Her brain was swelling.

T.J. said he didn’t believe it at first.

The doctor told him that if he wanted he should call family to visit her right away.

“He said it might not be long,” T.J. said. “This was the worst day ever.”

A lot of family and friends rushed to the hospital, he said.

The swelling in Missy’s brain was causing it to shift and put pressure on the good side of her brain.

The doctor told T.J. that Missy had about an hour before extreme damage was done.

T.J. had to decide immediately whether to wait to see if medicine would stop the swelling or whether doctors should perform a craniotomy, cutting out a piece of Missy’s skull to remove dead brain tissue.

Either carried a risk that Missy might enter a vegetative state; the craniotomy could also bring serious bleeding and infection.

T.J. decided to wait. “I said, ‘I’m going to leave it in the good Lord’s hands.’”

The swelling stopped about an hour later.

Missy stayed in the ICU for three more days. T.J. said a later MRI showed that some of the brain tissue that would have been removed in the craniotomy was still alive.

Missy regained consciousness but couldn’t speak. She wrote notes to T.J.

Her first note was just three letters — T-O-T. “Tot” is a nickname they call their youngest son, Christian, who was four years old at the time. T.J. assured her both he and their older son, Bryce, were fine.

Missy was later moved to a regular room at Rapides for almost a week and then was admitted into The Institute of Research and Rehabilitation Memorial Hermann in Houston on Dec. 15. She stayed there three months.

The Campbell family celebrated Christmas at the rehabilitation hospital last year. T.J. said Christian even rode his new bike around the hospital.

The family is back at their home near Pine Prairie now, and Missy goes to physical therapy once a week. She also has exercises to do at home.